Each of us has a rehearsed set of notable facts about ourselves – the things that come up early when we meet somebody. It might be, “I’m a twin”, for example, or “I was born in Hong Kong.” Somewhere, right now, somebody is casually saying, “I am actually related to Judi Dench.”
I have a few of these, too: my sister reads the news, and I can’t ride a bike. But what people tend to be most intrigued by is the fact that I have lived with the same flatmate for 11 years and counting. She is not just a flatmate, but one of my most treasured friends. At this stage, she is family.
We met in the corridor of an Edinburgh University flat; we’d both been randomly assigned to live there. We immediately had a lot in common. We're both from Newcastle; we were born eight days apart (and so we always hold joint birthday parties); and we're both from close families. We didn't meet until we were 19, but our infant-school photos, taken when we were four, show striking similarities: the same ribbons in our hair, the same Peter Pan collars. In fact, though she’s Indian and I am white, in some ways we are physically alike. We have the same super-sized grins – although her teeth are perfect, while mine, from less flattering angles, look like a fistful of piano keys.
I liked her the day we met, but the first time we really clicked was a week or two later. We were sitting in our fluorescent-lit kitchen, watching our tiny TV, and I was moaning that I was bored. She stood up and delivered a rendition of I'm In The Mood For Dancing by The Nolans, accompanied by an interpretative jig, with a tea towel as a prop. I laughed until tears ran down my cheeks. You probably had to be there.
We lived together for four years at university, before decamping to different cities; then, in 2008, she moved into my London flat. We have now lived together for so long that my sister once sent us a card reading, “Merry Christmas! I hope this will be the year that you two make it official.” We have spent our adult lives as a double act – we are French and Saunders, Mel and Sue, Ant and Dec.
Most of our time together is spent padding around our flat, silently painting our nails next to each other on the sofa, and discussing what we want for dinner
But nothing stays the same. In spring of next year, she is leaving my flat and moving in with her husband-to-be – which marks the end of an era so significant that even acquaintances keep asking how I will cope.
I don't know, is the answer. I will be fine, but it will be strange, and I hope we’ll stay close. We have seen each other through career decisions, medical treatments, broken hearts, family crises and personal triumphs. We have spent over a decade getting to know each other, not only through shared experiences and what must now be years of talking, but through the reliable mundanity of everyday life. Most of our time together is spent padding around our flat, silently painting our nails next to each other on the sofa, and discussing what we want for dinner. This kind of friendship – long, consistent and mostly drama-free – gives me some idea of what a good marriage might be like: not necessarily exciting, but characterised by laughter, stability and trust.
Life isn’t always wonderful. Both of us have been through difficult experiences, and the flat hasn’t been so much fun during those. But our friendship has endured, and its longevity has made me wiser. It has taught me to recognise the people who are really valuable in life: the ones who stick around even after you’ve thrown up on their shoes, or complained for the 100th time about the same problem, or become unreasonably bossy because you’ve invited eight people round for lunch and you are incredibly stressed about it. (All of these examples are taken purely from my imagination.)
I don’t know what it will feel like when she moves out. I don’t know whether we’ll still share birthday parties when she is half of a new double act, and has a family of her own. But I know that if, in our old age, we need to move into nursing homes, I’d like us to pick the same one. There, we will watch season 89 of The Only Way Is Essex, keeping up a sarcastic commentary while we share a bag of boiled sweets. We will hang out in our dressing gowns and slippers, just as we did in our student flat, and we will discuss what we want for dinner. It won’t be glamorous, but it will feel like home.